The power of the Gaze



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The way I have approached the draft is not the same as the essay. I wrote random paragraphs that will be refined and connected.

Marina Abramovic, the objectification of the body and the power of the Gaze as seen through her work.

The power of the Gaze.

The power of the Gaze as seen through Marina Abramovic’s work.

The power of the physical gaze as a political act.
First establish the following:

We take as axiomatic that any action or concept “A” that effects/has impact upon “B” can and will from here on be considered (potentially) political.

Therefore Marina Abramovic’s physical gaze as seen through her work will prove to reside within the realm of politics.

She brings out the ability to feel and not shy away from showing and expressing said feelings. And she dose that with her gaze. She herself hits her wall and allows each individual in turn expose it.

The man that you could see was changed after sitting across from her. He came back 21 times... So she did have an impact on him, thus the mutual gazing was political.

Real life is more performative than any performance, and that is why it is Live Art.


Objectification of the body: through releasing herself, exposing herself, allowing herself to be used she empowers herself. She makes the audience react, brings forth their inner needs, passions, daemons. She confronts them with who they truly are.

Klaus Biesenghach, MoMA curator says “Art revealing human nature”.


What does Live aRt do to the soul, both the artist’s, (and the performer’s if they are not the same person) and the audience’s? How does objectifying one’s body and on the other hand looking at an objectified body affect the soul, spirit and even the physical appearance? Is the soul just trapped inside a “box” looking out, waiting to be transformed by the performance?

Can the artist’s body become an object and still hold on to it’s integrity?

“The audience gazes back. She needs the audience in order to define her existence, she feeds on it and the audience in turn does the same...Narcissism and spectatorship...
So many people at MoMA...

Even if just out of curiosity, she managed to communicate through her art to all sorts of people and on various levels, a fact the for me proves the political aspect of it. She affects and moves her audience and the energy between her gaze and theirs seems to penetrate the screen and pop out! She makes them feel their feelings, tune into themselves and at the time through the relationship of artist/performer and audience she holds the power despite her apparent passivity.

She becomes a symbol (fetish) to those who sit in front of her. A symbol of things lost to be found, hidden to be exposed, long dead to be reborn. And putting herself in the position of becoming a symbol she exposes her own narcissism. A vicious cycle of narcissism  need to be looked at  objectifying the artist’s body  becoming a symbol  drawing the attention of the audience  engaging them in the process as spectators  allowing them to believe they have the power over her passive self  enabling them to let go and expose themselves (to her)  thus giving her back her power and feeding her narcissism!
Shared experience of the audience and the performer.

One feeds the other.

Chris Iles - Curator of the Witney Museum of American Art  How quickly a group of people will become bestial if you give them permission to do so.
Film “Marina Abramovic: The artist is present” She gives herself to the audience, she imposes upon herself a certain “warrior” state of mind and an emptiness, to enable her to exist solely in the present time, with and for her audience. The spectators’ gaze is intertwined with hers and this constitutes politics in the sense that they emerge changed.
Sean Kelly – Marina’s Gallerist very accurately characterizes her performances transcendent...
The need to be loved is apparent... In performance it manifests itself as a need to be looked at, to be communicated with.

Her body is objectified not for the aesthetics of it but for the politics. She needs to be looked at, and through spectatorship she affects the audience.

Quote from the film: “Very soon I’m just a mirror of their own self”  By making her body available to be looked at and at the same time looking at whoever sits across from her she is object and subject at the all in one and her mere gaze is a political action affecting both the one across from her and in combination with the other’s feedback, the rest of the audience/spectators.
Moments from the film “Marian Abramovic: The Artist Is Present” that show the impact of her performance thus proving its political value:
1:27:03 We see young children and young adults sitting cross-legged or on their bellies and looking into each other’s eyes. Trying out what they saw her and the ones across from her do. She has affected them, she has shown that society’s implication that looking right into someone’s eyes is a taboo is in effect not true. She has made a difference in the way her spectators behave after seeing her and thus she has a clear impact on who they are, on what they believe, on how they question or not society’s commands and training.
1:27:50 “ She desires to be loved, she desires to be needed” i.e narcissism is part of who she is and what she does... Making her body an object and phenomenally passive (lets not confuse her vulnerability with passivity) she actually satisfies her needs through satisfying the spectators’ needs. She becomes a symbol, a totem holding a special power to transform those who come in contact with her.

From the journal “The artist is present” Artistic re-enactments and the impossibility of presence, by Amelia Jones  The “sitter” becomes the object as well. By gazing back she forces the other to become an object. She takes control, becomes from object  subject and back again in a vicious cycle. She is a performer but also a spectator.

Clearly political as A affects B, B in turn affects A and so on...

Thinking of Foucault’s panopticon, one may say that Marina Abramovic in “The Artist is Present” is like a reverse panopticon.... She can be seen by all. She is in the center and invokes “to-be-looked at-ness”...

Journal: Narcissism without apology, Art in the offertorium  Pg 31, Daniel Stern 

Political/transformative action: “ ...Abramovic locks the succession of her comers into a visual relationship that takes them out of this world, into a trance-like state..... Marina Abramovic’s gaze however, is not particularistic, like the mutual gaze of lovers, it is impersonal, quite blank. One might think of it as the performance of a universal gaze, the attempt to embody an abstract, imaginary visibility...”


“Consciousness is always accompanied by a sensation of observability” i.e we define ourselves, the artist defines herself, through the gaze of the spectators.
Youtube, Marina Abramovic – Rhythm 0 

It is a very clear case of objectification of the body. She becomes an object for the audience to use in any way they want, with any of the given tools. She gives the audience power. BUT the narcissism is also there because in giving power by providing her own body she quite possibly states a belief that her body does indeed have power over others despite its passivity. What is interesting is that as long as she remained an object to be looked at and used the spectators where ok. Once she became a subject again at the end, once she became real, the impact of it made the audience run away, thus proving the political value of her position as symbol, fetish to fulfill the spectators’ inner wants and needs on the one hand but also the necessity for the label “performance” in order for the audience to actually be able to look and participate...


Book “ The transformative power of performance” :
About “Lips of Thomas”. The audience took charge. Again we see her objectifying her body and here, in doing so, she forces the non-participating spectators to take the role of voyeurs, she tests them and their limits, she has a real life affect on them => the gaze is political. There is a reversal of roles object subject and a transformation of the involved spectators into actors. A similar transformation is found in early modern period penal rituals. Here the audience is lead not only to participate but to do so in making an ethical decision. The difference is that the transformation occurs not through shock tactics but as a result of consciousness.

This has a further impact on the remaining, non-active spectators. As a result we have a 3-level spectatorship: The performer, the involved audience and the non-involved audience, all affecting each other.


She clearly exhibits elements of ritual as well as spectacle, she becomes object, symbol, totem, fetish and the spectators become voyeurs.


Considering Butler’s definition of performativity, Marina Abramovic’s art is political in the sense that “what matters is the fact that something occurs and that what occurs affects....... everyone involved"

According to Ron Athey, as he stated in a conversation with Francesca Alfano Miglietti for the book “Extreme Bodies”, “...Marina Abramovic, (who) was admittedly very aesthetic but who still transmitted a message of great clarity”.


Excerpt from the book: “... a way of doing art, Marina Abramovic’s way, that teeters on the brink of confusion...the human being that constitutes itself as the object of reflection, at times embarrassing...at times authoritarian.”

From “The Artist’s Body” by Tracy Warr and Amelia Jones, we can conclude that Marina Abramovic, with and without Ulay, presented the body as an object to be used and looked at. She counted on her spectators to become active at times or remain voyeurs at others. But she herself was almost always objectified without loosing her power, she put herself in the position of becoming a totem, a fetish a source of power through her passivity and her release...


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